Britain hopes for 'coming of age' in Sochi
LOS ANGELES - Agence France-Presse
Britain's Jenny Jones performs a jump during the women's snowboard slopestyle finals event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Rosa Khutor, February 9, 2014. REUTERS photoEighteen months on from the nationwide euphoria of the 2012 London Olympics, Britain harbours high hopes of breaking new ground at the Winter Games in Sochi.
Britain's temperate climate makes it ill-suited to winter sports, which tend to be considered something of a novelty in the country.
While Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean rose to national prominence after winning gold in the ice dancing at the 1984 Winter Olympics, almost as fondly remembered is hapless ski jumper Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards.
So longsighted that he had to wear glasses while competing, even though they fogged so much that he could not see, Edwards finished last in both his events at the 1988 Games in Calgary, but his ineptitude made him a household name.
However, buoyed by the success of the London Games, when the hosts finished third in the medals table, the British team has been set a target of collecting between three and seven medals in Sochi.
Britain has not won three medals at a Winter Olympics since the 1936 event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but a record 14 million ($22.8 million, 16.9 million euros) investment in winter sports has raised expectations.
"This squad will be better supported than any other winter campaign," says Liz Nicholl, the chief executive of funding body UK Sport.
"We want at least three medals and that would be our best Olympic performance since 1936. This is the first coming of age of the Winter Olympic and Paralympic teams." Jenny Jones has already made history, having become the first Briton to win an Olympic medal in a snow event when she took bronze in the snowboard slopestyle.
The novelty of the discipline was not quite to everyone's taste in Britain, however, with broadcaster the BBC receiving more than 300 complaints over its television coverage of the event.
Fellow British snowboarder Aimee Fuller was invited to provide co-commentary on the slopestyle final, but she contravened usual BBC decorum by cheering exuberantly when one of Jones's rivals fell.
Jones's triumph was nonetheless splashed across newspaper front pages and belief in a record medal haul is strong, with Lizzy Yarnold leading the charge as one of the favourites in the skeleton.
Yarnold is bidding to succeed countrywoman Amy Williams, who retired after triumphing at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, while team-mate Shelley Rudman, a silver-medallist in 2006, is another contender.
With the heady sporting summer of 2012 still fresh in the national memory, those competing in Sochi have noticed a spike in public support.
"I love that everyone's supporting me -- it's really flattering," slopestyle skier James Wood told the Daily Telegraph.
"It's a testament to Great Britain that people are genuinely interested in Team GB. It makes me so proud to be British. London 2012 was amazing. I went and it was great to be a part of it." Hoping that Britons are ready to rekindle their Olympic love affair, the BBC promised "the most complete digital coverage of a Winter Games to date".
The organisation will broadcast 1,200 hours of live and catch-up video coverage of the event over its various platforms and has sent 95 staff to Sochi -- 21 more than made the trip to Vancouver four years ago.
Britain has, however, led protests over Russia's controversial law banning the dissemination of "gay propaganda" to minors, with prominent gay comedian and writer Stephen Fry calling for a boycott of the Games.
The BBC's coverage of the event is fronted by a gay woman, Clare Balding, who said: "I think the best way of enlightening societies that are not as open-minded as our own is not to be cowed into submission."